The Resurrection Means Rest

If I am honest, as we are approaching the high point of the liturgical year, I am feeling quite low. Even after a week away with my family surrounded by God’s beauty, my heart feels depleted and cumbersome. A year of church planting, long, slow writing projects with little feedback, and keeping up with three teenaged boys has me running on fumes, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Even as we are buying the eggs for the church egg hunt and preparing the liturgy for Good Friday, I feel like a fraud. My heart isn’t skipping, even though I know the resurrection is coming. My soul isn’t soaring even though I know (at least cerebrally) how loved I am by the One who shed his blood for me. Even though we are planning a service to help our people look at and behold their king, I am struggling to look up.

But, as I journaled and wrestled with tears in my eyes this morning, the Lord reminded me that this is why he went to the cross. He went to the Cross so I would know that He looks at me with gentle love even when I struggle to look up to Him. He emptied himself on the Cross so I can rest from the need to perform or fill myself when my soul is spent and empty.

When I can’t make my spirit rise, His Resurrection is still a reality. I don’t have to dig deeper to get it right because nails were dug into his very human hands for me. I don’t have to pluck up and keep carrying my load alone because my yoke-fellow already carried the full weight to Calvary.

None of the callousness of my heart shocks him. In fact, such realities shoved him toward the Cross. The endless chasm of needs, which are still news to me, is not new to him. He suffered so he could greet me with gentleness and understanding right in the middle of my needs.

Today, I am learning that it is okay if celebrating the Resurrection might not look like leaping and rejoicing this year. He is gently showing me that celebrating the Resurrection can also look limping and resting. Christ’s Resurrection assures me that one day, we will leap rather than limp.

For those who have been limping through Lent, may you find rest in the reality of Christ’s resurrection. May you feel the freedom to let Christ nestle you down for a nap in the place where his body once lay.

In returning and rest you will be saved; in quietness and trust is your strength (Isaiah 30:15)

Resting in Resurrection

It’s okay if I collapse;
My Savior – He arose. 
It’s okay if no one sees;
My Savior fully knows. 

I don’t need to prove myself;
His Cross pleads proven love. 
When all within condemns me,
He gently bids me look above. 

When I’m spent with naught to offer,
His spent blood offers peace. 
When I’m trapped by circumstance,
His Resurrection is my release. 

He nestles me down for a nap
Where His body once was laid. 
My Risen Savior pleads for me,
All my debts are fully paid. 

So, then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his (Hebrews 4:9-10).

The Shoulders of a Savior

Poor Phin. Our youngest son struggled to keep up with his teenage brothers this week on our hiking excursions in Montana. Even our attempts to coax him with Dairy Queen were not enough to get him moving by the end of a few long days. What the hope of a Reese’s blizzard could not do, his father’s shoulders did.

Throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew word zeroa is used over 90 times. It literally means strength, might, power, or shoulder. Yahweh was said to have rescued His people from enslavement to the strongest nation in the world with an outstretched arm (Exodus 6:6). In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses uses this same word as bookends to the story  of God’s people’s past and future. At the beginning of his long speech to recount the faithfulness of God, Moses writes the following regarding the Exodus.

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God  brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
Deuteronomy 5:15.

After his long story/speech, knowing he won’t be going up to the Promised Land with them, Moses wraps up with similar imagery of God’s powerful arms.

There is none like God, O Jeshrun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms…Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord,  the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph! Deuteronomy 33:26-27 & 29. 

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It is no wonder, then, that God uses the same imagery in His promises of the Messiah through the prophet Isaiah.

Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.  Isaiah 52:9-10.

God’s people were understandably expecting God to flex His strength through a display of power. He had promised to bear His arm, to show His strength clearly in the sight of all nations. One cannot fault them for jumping over Isaiah 53’s suffering servant to hold on to these prophesies of saving power. After all, that was how God had acted in the Exodus.

But the second Exodus to which the original Exodus pointed would prove a very different display of strength.

God bared his strength in the weakness of a child’s soft shoulder bones compressing in delivery into the world He had created. The shoulder of God’s strength likely sat atop his carpenter father’s shoulders. Jesus’ shoulders and arms were laid bare when He was mockingly stripped of His garments by Roman soldiers. Later, his shoulder muscles were torn to the point of exhaustion under the awful load of the beam upon which he would be executed.

Is this how God would flex His strength and bare His arm so that all people might see the  salvation of our God?

Moses was more right than he could have possibly imagined when he rhetorically asked Israel if ever there was a god like theirs in Deuteronomy 4.

“For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of.” Deuteronomy 4:32. 

Our God bore His strength through the display of weakness that is the Cross so that we might be raised up on His resurrected shoulders unto salvation.

There is nothing more beautiful than the shoulders of this Savior.

Bemoaning Boredom

Communication is not what is spoken but what is heard. Throughout the day, there are about a billion things I say to my children. I am not sure what, if anything, gets through. There’s only one sure fire way to know what is actually being communicated to their little hearts and minds. Eavesdropping.

Every once in a while, while I am cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry or hiding in the bathroom, I’ll listen in on the boys conversations (we will talk about invasion of privacy when they can define the word invasion). They have some amazing pillow talk, those two older boys. Their conversations run the gamete: dragons, monsters, plans for inventions, talking about the field trips they will take in 8th grade the way that I talk about retirement.

The other day Eli was complaining of being bored, to which Tyus responded, “Mom wants us to be bored. Because when we are bored, we create new things and come up with new fun.”

In my shock, I may or may not have dropped the laundry I was folding. They are actually listening to me.

Today, while I was resting and reading and praying, the Lord told me that maybe I should listen to me, too.

Internally, I am better than my children at bemoaning boredom. Sure, I rarely walk up to the Lord and tug at His proverbial pant leg to whine, “I’m so bored. There is nothing to do.” But internally, I complain about the monotony of manning the same post day in and day out. I look around at everyone else’s toys and activities and determine that others received the better end of the deal. In my boredom, I mindlessly scroll through the Facebook feed or shop around at thrift stores or fantasize about getaways and vacations that involve quiet and sleep and take place anywhere but here.

Nearly two hundred years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville, a European visitor to America,  made some observations about Americans that still ring true, at least in my own heart and home.

“Born often under another sky, placed in the middle of an always moving scene, himself driven by the irresistible torrent which draws all about him, the American has no time to tie himself to anything, he grows accustomed only to change, and ends by regarding it as the natural state of man. He feels the need of it, more, he loves it; for the instability, instead of meaning disaster to him, seems to give birth only to miracles all about him.”

Guilty as charged.

Teaching Our Children to Embrace Boredom

The greatest temptation of the parent is to give our children what they want rather than what they need. My children, in their flesh want to be constantly busy with fun things, but they need to be busy with boring things like chores or just plain bored.

Boredom exposes their hearts and their idols. it shows gaps. As a momma, my reflexive response is to want to fill all gaps for them. But the gaps are the places where grace and the gospel leak into their lives. When they are not so full of what they want, they may begin to realize what they really need.

It is so challenging for me to let them sit in perceived lack, but such lack points us to our need for the constantly full One. Boredom forces them to look over all that they do have and use it more creatively. It reminds them that this earth is not our home and that we were made for more than personal fulfillment. These lessons are hard to swallow, but the sooner these truths sink in, the better they will be for the future.

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Embracing Boredom as Adults

I see it in my boys who claim boredom in the midst of bins of toys and in between exciting adventures and countless opportunities. I see it in my longing to start something new, do something different, visit someplace exotic. Boredom lies under the temptation to quit my post and find a greener pasture when life gets flat and days get long.

I often tell my boys, “Boredom is a gift. It teaches you to create and to play.”

Today God reminded me that, as His child, He thinks the same for me. He longs for more than my entertainment. He longs for me to be satisfied deeply in Him, not in changing circumstances.

In the monotony I deeply dread,  He gives me opportunity to dig deeper into His well for joy. The pleasures of HIs presence are far more substantial and lasting than the ephemeral pleasures I typically jump to as from rock to rock.

If I am honest, I look forward to bed time, I look forward to a haircut, I look forward to Starbucks coffee splurges. I look forward to the weekend, I look forward to vacation and adventures. I don’t look far enough.

The Lord reminded me ever-so-gently today that I need a longer hope, a longer vision. Psalm 130 is a good place for my soul to sit awhile.

I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning. Indeed, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord; For with the Lord there is lovingkindness and with Him is abundant redemption. 

In a culture that is drowning in entertainment, we are a terribly bored and discontented people. Or at least I can speak for myself.

This week, instead of dreading the monotony, I long for the Lord to transform it, to invite me deeper into His ever-available abundance right where I am. I don’t want to quit my post. The Lord put me here, and He plans to show up. I just tend to be too busy chasing cheap satisfaction to notice His coming.

Resurrection (The Happiest Handkerchief)

As we approach Easter amidst war in Ukraine, it does not take much imagination for us to join the 11 disciples and the throngs of faithful women in their heaviness, powerlessness, confusion, and fear at the death of Christ.

As we read John’s account of the Resurrection this morning, the grave clothes stood out to me. The joy of Jesus unfurling the linens that had been wrapped about his mangled body by the hands of weeping loved ones captured my imagination. He knew they would never weep the same kind of hopeless tears again. While they would weep and grieve, as he had promised they would, they would do so under the light of the living hope that rose with him.

Because His body which was literally crushed on the cross for our sin took conquering steps out of the tomb, death cannot crush us, not even in a pandemic. We dry our tears in  the linens he left in the tomb!

Now we can say in our grief and confusion with the Apostle Paul, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

We are not destroyed by death because Jesus destroyed death in His rising, infusing grief with a surpassing glory.

This morning I discovered a short poem by George Herbert which I have somehow missed in my reading before. What a timely gift from God to me! A special little Easter surprise that lifted my soul, as I hope it does yours.

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From The Dawning, by George Herbert

Awake sad heart, whom sorrow ever drowns;
    Take up thine eyes, which feed on earth; 
Unfold thy forehead gather’d into frowns;
    Thy Savior comes, and with him mirth:
                  Awake, awake;….

                 Arise, arise; 
And with his burial linen dry thine eyes:
     Christ left his graveclothes, that we might, when grief
     Draws tears, or blood, not want an handkerchief.

That we can now dry our tears with God’s loosed grave clothes is such good news. It is the news that every human heart hungers to hear always, but especially in a season when death is dealing heavy blows globally.

In the Resurrection of Christ we have been given gospel hope and the happiest handkerchief. He is risen, indeed! Dry your eyes with his linens this morning! Death has not won; life in God has the last word!

Though we still live in the already / not yet of the kingdom of God, though we still live in the valley of tears, Christ’s resurrection provides the hope and the handkerchief we need to live until the days when tears will be no more.

Charcoal Fires and Forgiveness

The Apostle John was a master storyteller. As with any excellent fiction writer, he painted such detailed pictures of the disciples’ interactions with Jesus that we can almost step into the scenes of his gospels. John’s gospel, likely the last gospel written and the first gospel to attempt contextualization to another culture, approaches Jesus’s life differently than the synoptic gospels.

While John moves swiftly through the first half of the his gospel, often called the book of signs, he slows down in the last half of his gospel account. Suddenly, we move from high-flying overviews with an occasional drop down into detail into a more detailed account of the last week of Jesus’s life.

After the long discourse recorded in John 14-16 and the long prayer recorded in John 17, John leads us back into action in John 18.

Jesus, crossing the brook Kidron, moves into action, having set his face toward the coming Cross. He is in full command throughout the entire chapter, showing the other-worldly nature of his kingdom, which he declares to Pilate in verse 36: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

One seemingly small detail jumps out to the observant reader: a charcoal fire.

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

As Jesus is brought before the High Priest, having boldly, calmly giving himself up to those who sought him in the dark with torches and weapons (v.4-5), the Apostle John gives us a vivid picture of Peter warming himself around a charcoal fire (v. 18, 25).

John juxtaposes Jesus’s care and concern for everyone else in the moment of his greatest need with Peter’s selfishly warming himself at the fire. John has set the stage for Peter’s three-fold denial around a charcoal fire. The reader can almost imagine the light and dark shadows, the watery eyes from the smoke, the smell lingering on the clothes long after the fire is out.

Later, after Peter’s persistent failure given three chances to identify himself with Jesus, we find another poignant scene taking place around a charcoal fire.

Jesus, having risen from the dead and appeared first to Mary Magdalene and then to the disciples who were hiding in a locked upper room, surprises his disciples who were fishing just as the day was breaking (John 21:1-4).

Jesus first recreates the scene of his original calling of the first disciples, helping them recognize him as the Risen Lord (Luke 5; John 21). In line with his impetuous nature, Peter jumps into the water to swim toward Jesus, forgetting for a moment the wall of awkwardness that still stood between them.

He walks up the beach to a charcoal fire where Jesus is cooking a meal for Peter and the disciples. Peter gave away his chances to align himself with the Lord, but the Lord continues to give himself to Peter in sacrificial, costly love.

Jesus, in line with his nature, does not shy away from the hard subject. Rather, he gently leads Peter there in healing conversation, forcing him to relive his failures by asking him three questions around a charcoal fire. Eyes filled with tears, the smell of charcoal smoke, the interplay of light and darkness. Same scene. Different ending.

Peter is graciously reinstated around the same kind of fire where he radically failed. What a merciful and masterful Jesus we serve.

Charcoal Fires 

Charcoal fires would never be the same,
Their smell would invoke his shame:

Threefold denial of Jesus’s perfect name. 

Days later, at another fire he was fed
Fish with Christ fresh from the dead.
By coals’ warmth to forgiveness he was led. 

Around charcoal fires, Peter spoke of grace,
Sharing good news with God’s chosen race,
Showing them in Jesus God’s own face. 

Now in glory, warmed by Christ alone,
Peter both fully loved and fully known
Sees the Lamb of God upon the throne. 

What are the charcoal fires of your life? What scenes of failure might Jesus be inviting you to revisit with his grace?

“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you might be feared…O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” (Psalm 130:3, 7-8).

On Pin Cushions and Preoccuption

Preoccupied: to be so engrossed with thoughts of something or someone that you are unable to engage in other things. Our word comes from from the Latin praeoccupare which literally means to “seize beforehand.”

When my heart and mind are already occupied with other things, there is no space to being present to others, primarily God Himself.

Sure, I may be bodily present; however, in a state of preoccupation my soul is not spacious enough for the people that God places in front of me, be they my children, neighbors, or strangers.  In a worried, frenetic, preoccupied state, souls have all the welcome of a pin cushion, according to Henri Nouwen.

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When God occupies my thoughts, however, He tunes me to the times set directly in front of me. Among the great privileges of the children of God is the ability to leave the things that used to preoccupy our time and energy to the God of abundance.  Our Father will look after our needs, so we need not obsess about them and the details; rather, we are invited to make space in our hearts for the needs, concerns, and delights of others.

After all, is not that what Jesus so poetically tried to show in his lilies and sparrows speech in the Sermon on the Mount? You need not be preoccupied with all those things, even the important and necessary things. Those who do not know Yahweh must chase after those things, but those who are adopted into God’s family are invited to a whole different way of living in light of the Fatherhood of God (Matthew 6).

I cannot be a place of safety and hospitality to others if my own heart has not been stilled and filled with God’s presence and peace.

I know this. I write about this. Yet, I forget about this all the time. Before I know it, my heart has returned to its pin-cushion place, all crowded and cramped with concerns  which were meant to be recycled into prayer.

I don’t realize that my heart and soul are preoccupied most of the time. But my children and husband do. They see the blank stare and hear the “uh-huhs” that are dead giveaways that my heart and mind are elsewhere. They are the compassionate cues from my Heavenly Father that I have been living like an orphan again: worrying and fretting when I could be praying and trusting.

In stillness before God, I am able to invite Him to walk with me into my pin-cushion heart. Embarrassed by the accumulated clutter, yet safe enough in His secure strength, I am able and ask Him to help me remove all the pins gathering there. One by one, the Lord pulls out burdens that were not mine to carry, pins of past failure that needed forgiveness, and an unnecessary pricks for all kinds of possible future scenarios.

Suddenly, my soul becomes spacious again. Yes, there are still needs and errands and responsibilities; however, there is also the fresh reminder that I have One indwelling me who provides and guides and gives wisdom and energy.

I’ve no need to be preoccupied with my next hour or my next week or my next month. My Father, who both created time and stands outside of it, is already there. But more importantly, He is here.

And He has people who need a spacious place to process their own pins, some of whom do not even know yet that there is a loving Father who dwells in abundance who wants to know them.

By God’s grace, may we become those whose hearts have space for others. May daily time with our Heavenly Father provide the removal of pins that prohibit us and others from experiencing His doting care until the day when we shall bodily dwell with Him without the presence of pins. Amen. 

 

 

The Dispersed Lady

Have you ever been reading fiction and felt like a line was reading you? That happened to me last night as I fell asleep reading Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. In this particular scene, a couple was discussing one of their dear friends as they lay in bed one evening.

At least they’ve got money.”

“That does help,” I said, “It even helps her hire a nanny to look after the children she’s already got, so she can be out promoting culture and singing in the chorus and cleaning up Wisconsin politics and being kind to the wives and the children of starving instructors. That’s a pretty dispersed lady.”

The last sentence of five words slew me. That’s a pretty dispersed lady.

While they were speaking of Charity, one of the main characters in this particular story, they could have well been speaking of me.

Dispersed

Dispersed. Spread out. Shed abroad. Scattered. A tendency to be all over the place and in everything.

Maybe you are not as prone to dispersion as I am, but even the most gathered and collected of us live in a dispersed and scattered culture. Even before the internet and its eery invitation to peer into the lives of others all around the world and to disperse our opinions and energies towards every possible cause, we were a dispersed culture. Sometime in the American experiment, better came to mean more and best came to mean most. Wider now seems synonymous with more accomplished. Our culture constantly leaks this truth into our lives, “The wider your sphere of influence, the wider the reach of your followers, the wider you have traveled, the more significant you must be.”

If people were speaking of me, as Sally and her husband were of their mutual friend, I pray that they would say of me, “That’s a pretty dependent and deep lady.”

Apart from the grace of God, this will be never be true of me. I tend to be more of a whirling dervish of energy and excitement and interest. Due to the fact that I am a mother of three busy boys, my schedule has me dispersed in twelve places at once. Add on top of that the reality that are planting a church and you have the recipe for a dispersed lady.

Dependent, Deep, and Focused

Yet, the gospel invites me to be both dependent, deep, and focused. In a culture permeated by self-will and self-talk, God asks his children to be God-reliant and God-directed. He invites us to draw from a well of strength that the world cannot see and guides us by priorities that world doesn’t always share.

In a culture spread thin running in every direction, our God invites us to be people of depth, a people deeply rooted. Rooted in his word, rooted in his promises, rooted in the messy community called the church, rooted to the people and purposes he has allotted for us (Ephesians 3:14-19; Hebrews 10:22-25; Psalm 16:5-8).

When offering us images of what it looks like to walk with God, the Spirit inspired the psalmist to give us the picture of a tree firmly planted by the water (Psalm 1). When Jesus sought to paint a picture of the kingdom of God for his disciples, he used similar imagery of a small seed which grew into an expansive tree offering shade and nesting branches to all in its surroundings (Matthew 13:31-32). Both of these word pictures share not only depth and rootedness but also dependence.

In a scattered, distracted culture, we are pulled in a thousand directions towards a thousand causes. It doesn’t help that our sin predisposes us to chase after everything but God. Yet, God commands his people to live with a clear focal point: Himself.

With our eyes fixed on the pioneer and perfecter of our faith and our gaze directed to Christ who is our life, we can do diverse things with a united heart (Hebrews 12:1-3; Colossians 3:1-4; Psalm 86:11).

The only reason we are able to become this kind of people is that Christ was the seed that died so that many might live (John 12:24). He was dispersed so we could be focused on him and rooted in him in deep dependence. Oh, that we would be deep, dependent, and focused people. When we are such, we will be free to disperse the seeds of the gospel to a world that desperately needs truth.

God Is Not (Only) Distant

Growing up, Bette Midler wrote a song called “From a Distance” that I loved to belt out in our wood-paneled van (yes, I had an old lady soul even as a child). It seemed like such an inspiring anthem at the time, but with a war in Europe happening as I write, its well-intended lyrics show themselves as a weak solution.

“From a distance the world looks blue and green and the snow capped mountains white…From a distance there is harmony and it echoes through the land…It’s the voice of hope ,it’s the voice of peace, it’s the voice of every man. From a distance we all have enough and no one is in need and there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease, no hungry mouths to feed.”

Though the words sound lovely and the music melodic and though the sentiment seems sweet, the song has no logic upon which to stand.

To simply step away far enough until you cannot see the problem does nothing to fix the problem. Without a transcendent reality, perspective and distance do nothing to help us with war.

What Christianity offers is the unique reality of the Triune God who is both transcendent (other, far off, holy) and immanent (near, close).

A Powerful Name and A Particular Name

I had the people of Ukraine on my heart and in my prayers this week as I was studying Exodus 3 where God reveals himself to Moses at the burning bush. It struck me that God identified himself with two primary names to the would-be-deliverer-who-points-to-a-better-deliverer.

When Moses asked God what his name was, he was essentially asking for more information about his nature and character, as name represented so much more than a mere series of letters in his culture. God’s response is both telling and two-fold.

“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (Exodus 3:14).

He first identifies himself as the transcendent, self-existing, uncreated One in an ontological statement (a statement of being). But God does not stop there.

“God also said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me to you.” This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations’.” (Exodus 3:15).

In addition to the transcendent name, God offers an immanent name. He is God All-Powerful and Self-sufficient, but he is simultaneously the immanent God who has drawn near to a particular people. In fact, he so closely identifies with these people that he choses to include his relationship to the name by which he wants to be remembered and known.

This dual reality is astounding and should rightly lead us to bow our knees in wonder while we lift our heads in hope.

In fact, prior to the conversation about names, God initiated conversation with Moses with two realities. He shows up with a miraculous sign: a bush burning though not consumed. He commands Moses to take off his sandals in light of God’s holiness (his transcendence). Yet, he tells Moses that his reason for such a miraculous sign is an immanent one.

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7-8).

Contrary to Bette Midler, our God offers hope that is solid rather than merely sentimental. Rather than stepping back so far as to blur our broken world, our God stepped into this world in the Second Person of the Trinity.

This is the hope we have to offer a war-torn Ukraine: God sees you, hears you, and leaned into your suffering to the point of becoming the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53). He took upon himself the sludge of sin so we could have the presence and promises of God in the midst of our very real problems.

The God of the universe is also the God of his Ukrainian children.

The Invitation Underneath Unforgiveness

Children of God are fully forgiven the moment they surrender and receive the atoning work of Christ packaged in the gospel; however, it takes a lifetime both to comprehend such fathomless forgiveness and to become those who forgive like the Father.

Jesus fully knew the depths of our sin-sickness when He swallowed to the dregs the punishment we had earned; yet, when we walk through the threshold of forgiveness, our knowledge of our own need for forgiveness barely scratches the surface of the canyon of our need.

Smuggling Unforgiveness
Periodically, usually when I am least expecting it, God reveals knots of unforgiveness that I have unknowingly smuggled into the kingdom of God. I don’t realize that I am still carrying such places of unforgiveness until God empties my emotional pockets, so to speak, revealing hidden remnants of hurt where forgiveness has not yet been fully applied.

Initially these moments of emotional exposure shock me and send me into a desperate clean up effort that still smacks of self. However, given some time and a long walk, God begins to shift my perspective to the invitation underneath the suddenly seen knot of unforgiveness.

When I receive an invitation, whether by snail mail or evite, I am being invited to a process. I open the invitation, process the information it reveals and then prepare and wait for the party. Likewise, when God exposes a knotted, gnarled place of bitterness in my heart, He is gently inviting me to a loving and often long process with Him.

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Underneath Unforgiveness
Underneath the ugliness of my unforgiveness is usually a place of deep woundedness and real pain. Underneath that place of deep pain is usually a hidden door into more gospel depths.

Like the man forgiven his massive debt by the king, I tend to find myself stingy in meting our forgiveness to those who have hurt me or triggered me in my most vulnerable places. My stinginess is a quiet invitation to enter another layer of the depths of the forgiveness that has been offered me in Christ. Clearly I must not understand the massive debt that He has completely forgiven me if I cannot forgive someone else his or her smaller, though serious debts.

I wish I could say that this descent deeper into my own sin and His costly love was quick and painless; however, I have found it to be quite the opposite: slow and sore.

To deal with my unforgiveness means to go to my most vulnerable places. My amygdala, that exquisite memory potion of the brain responsible for processing painful memories in an effort to protect us, often works against me at this point. When this complex component to my brain is triggered by a sight, a smell, a sound, a memory, I am tempted to fight or flee. However, I know what my amygdala does not; I am not who I used to be or where I used to be.

Security in the Savior 
My Savior then gets to speak into my deep and human need for security. Rather than go the easy way out of huddling my hurt around me as a protection and insulator from further such pain, He offers me another way. He reminds me that any security built solely or even mainly on circumstances or relationships is a deeply susceptible and inherently unstable security.

He reminds me that I don’t have to shield myself with unforgiveness as a protection or bitterness as a wall of safety.  He offers Himself as my shield and invites me to a safety that cannot be shaken, no matter what shakes all around me.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 125:2. 

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge,  my savior; you save me from violence. 2 Samuel 22:2-3. 

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Genesis 15: 1. 

I am safe and shielded in the arms of the One whom I used to raise my arms in rebellion against. He is my safety. Wrapped up more tightly into His strong arms, He will begin to unwrap and unwind the tight knots of unforgiveness that mar my heart in places of deep pain. It will be a process, but in the end, there will be quite the party to celebrate the stunning beauty of forgiveness found in Him and flowing from Him alone.

Fully Opened

As the Spring breaths its new life over a weary, wintered earth, things begin to open. Buds bravely begin the process of opening themselves from being tightly bound, exposing themselves to the outside air.

But buds are not the only tightly bound things. Hearts, hands, and souls are also bound and closed. Exposure to the brokenness of the world constricts the soul. Fears tend to tighten hearts in reflexive self-protection; however, exposure to Christ opens the soul in hope, eager expectation, and even a vulnerable love. Continue reading